Dallon isn’t even aware that he moves. It’s a reflex, simple as breathing. The car hits something, before he can even process this fact, his hand is resting on Ryan’s wrist over the gear shift. Only then does the rational thought come, we’re not moving, why did we stop? Oh god. Oh my god we crashed the car. Thoughts come and go in a jumble, like blinking Christmas lights plugged in while still entangled. The only solid thing Dallon is sure of is the warmth of Ryan’s wrist under his fingertips.
Thank God everyone was wearing seatbelts. In the back seat, Josh, Conner, and Matt jerk awake. They grumble, variations of “what the hell?” and “where are we?” echoing over each other. Slowly, pieces start to fit together. The car is stopped, stalled, in the middle of Route 15, the hood popped and bent at an awkward angle, covered in blood and animal hair.
“We’re okay.” Dallon himself isn’t sure whether he’s directed that statement to everyone, or to just Ryan, who sits frozen behind the wheel with an expression like, for lack of a more appropriate simile, a deer in the headlights.
Ryan speaks for the first time in a few minutes. “We should all get out. For all I know, engine could be leaking carbon monoxide or something.” There’s some grumbling from the back. Dallon is the first to move. He regrets taking his hand away from Ryan’s to undo his seatbelt. Ryan starts to soften from his frozen state.
“He is right, you know,” Dallon tells the other guys once they’re all out of the car. They’re all standing on the side of the road, except Ryan, who is sitting on the tattered remains of the hood. Dallon looks at him wistfully. “We don’t know what’s happened to the engine. Bad shit could happen.”
“Bad shit did happen.”
“It could have been worse.” Dallon snaps, continually staring at Ryan. “Could have been much worse.” He wants to cast aside his stupid mother-hen instinct keeping the other three together. For the moment, he does.
When he reaches Ryan, he’s on the phone. “Dal?” Ryan asks, covering the phone’s receiver end. “Do you know exactly where we are?”
“Um, probably about seventeen miles north of Provo? I can look for a mile marker if you need one.” He looks up the road a bit, gives Ryan the number on the nearest sign. “Who’s on the phone?”
Ryan relays the number, holding a hand out flat in a ‘wait’ gesture. “Alright, thanks. We. um. We won’t move, I guess.” He cringes as he hangs up. “Tow truck. It’s gonna be a while.”
“You’re alright.” Dallon means it as both a statement of fact (Ryan is, as people go, more than alright. He’s downright good. Swell. Great, even) and a half-question, seeking confirmation. Ryan shrugs in response to both.
“Whatever I hit with the car isn’t.”
“Ryan.” Dallon reaches out and takes both of Ryan’s hands, helping him down from the hood of the battered car. He’s cold, they’re all cold, it’s November in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert and there’s snow covering the dust and rock and weeds lining the highway. Delicately, as if they’ll melt under his touch, Dallon kisses the joint just before the fingernail on three or four of Ryan’s pretty little fingers. Ryan shivers. Dallon reflects on the ambiguity of that involuntary action. He’d like to be the one making Ryan shiver. But maybe Jack Frost has stolen that honor this time. Dallon knows he shouldn’t fight the weather. The odds are stacked against him. Ryan continues to shiver in his thin white emo hoodie, which means Jack Frost has won this round.
“How far would it be to walk home?” Ryan asks. He smiles, so he could be joking, but he doesn’t laugh, so he could also be serious.
“About 10 hours.”
“You’re serious? It’s a twenty minute drive.”
Ryan nods, cocking his jaw like he’s saying ‘fair enough’ or some other phrase that would sound pretentiously obnoxious coming from Dallon, but would actually sound sincere if Ryan said it out loud. “It’s so damn cold,” is what he actually says.
Dallon tries not to read too much into that. It is damn cold. His fingers are a little numb. “The cold doesn’t set in as badly if you keep moving,” he suggests. “Walk with me?” Ryan shrugs again, but does step closer. If Dallon’s not imagining things, Ryan leans into his side a bit as they walk.
“Do you think we’ll work out?” Ryan point-blanks. Dallon tries not to make it obvious that he chokes on his spit. “The Brobecks, I mean,” he clarifies after a silence that was a little too long. “I want us to,” he picks back up after a pause pregnant enough to deliver triplets within the week.
They’re walking in a circle, occasional snow and frost cracking under their feet. Dallon wishes he’d worn socks, like he can feel his ankles turning cherry-blossom pink. That’s easier to think about than this conversation full of loaded words. “I think, Ryan, if you want it enough, there’s always a chance.”
“I’ve had offers from others.” Pause. “Other bands.”
“So have I.” Pause. “Ryan?”
“You’ll always have me, at least. Even if you leave, I’ll always be here for you to come back to.”
This far from the road, it’s too dark to tell what kind of face Ryan is making. Dallon hopes it’s a smile. He ‘accidentally’ swings his arm as he walks, bumping his wrist into Ryan’s, and the question of whether or not they’re really talking about the band is on the tip of his stuttering tongue when there’s a sickening squish from the ground.
“Jesus H. Christ!” Ryan yelps, and immediately folds himself into Dallon’s chest. Dallon wraps his arms around him in shock, then sees the source of the noise and the resulting shock. It’s a deer, or, it probably was an hour ago. Bloodied and cold, bent at angles no living thing should bend in, it’s sickeningly pretty. Dallon holds Ryan tighter.
“It’s dead, isn’t it?”
Dallon only nods, letting Ryan feel the movement against the side of his head through the thin white hood.
“I hurt it. I killed it.”
“Ryan,” Dallon breathes, rubbing his back softly, “you didn’t hurt it. This little guy didn’t feel any pain, I promise.”
Ryan exhales slowly, shakily. “Take me back to the car.” Dallon complies.
They sit in near silence on the concrete, leaning their backs against the wreck. After a few minutes, Ryan’s head sinks. “I killed a deer, Dal. An innocent animal.”
“It’s not your fault. It wouldn’t be called a car accident if you’d meant to do it, would it?” Nine times out of ten, the dad joke would have an effect on Ryan. But there’s always that tenth time.
“That doesn’t change the fact that it’s dead because of me. And not only that, but now I also don’t have a car. How did I have two failures this bad at the same time?” Ryan sighs, tears starting to fall. Dallon pretends not to see them, to preserve Ryan’s dignity. “I know it’s just a car. It can be fixed or replaced. But that car is so much of my life at the moment. Most of all, it’s where I spend time with you.” Dallon tries hard not to focus on the ambiguity of the word you, the fact that Ryan never specified the singular or the plural. This isn’t the time or place. He chastises himself for failing to focus. “And now we don’t even have a way home.” With that, Ryan lets himself start crying in earnest.
Fuck dignity and all other presumptions of the way men should act around each other, Dallon wraps one arm around Ryan’s shoulders and hoists his legs into his lap with the other. He wants to protect Ryan from the world. This is the best he can do for now.
“Dallon,” Ryan whispers into his chest, shaking from either the cold outside or his internal sobs starting to break out.
Dallon shushes him. “I know.” He doesn’t, really. But he thinks it’s what Ryan needs to hear, so he wraps up everything he wants to say into that two-word envelope and seals it with a kiss to Ryan’s temple. In the distance, the amber light of a tow truck flashes.